Brown again protests 'sunshine problem' in Lower Merion


This just in from Lower Merion Township commissioner Jenny Brown. Before running unsuccessfully for county commissioner on the Republican ticket in November, Brown had pushed for greater transparency in township government. Here she returns to her prior theme.

The issue comes to a head tonight, she says:

“Unfortunately, the confidence that Lower Merion residents should be able to have in their Township government has taken another hit. Please excuse the length of this email, but I believe this is an important and serious matter involving your local government and that you should know how this came about.

The public's trust in its elected and appointed officials is the foundation of our form of government and should be safeguarded at all costs. It is somewhat ironic that on Monday evening (2/13/12), the Federation of Civic Associations met with Board President Liz Rogan to discuss the Directors' concerns regarding her conduct of Board meetings and the lack of public participation with respect to important Township matters.

President Rogan professed a commitment to transparency and openness and to allowing the public the proper amount of time to participate…

You will recall the very serious sunshine problems that the Board had a few years ago, improperly conducting budget discussions in the back room. There were pickets, protests and sit-ins by Township residents. The then Board President told the residents that if they didn't like it, they should sue the Township. The disrespect and condescension toward the Township residents were palpable.

With the hasty midterm resignation of that Board President, and the election of Commissioner Liz Rogan to the post, some thought the secretive backroom days would also be a thing of the past. While there have continued to be questionable practices concerning the budget, there has not been the same level of "in-your-face" disrespect of the public…until now.

Here's what is going on. There is a single, innocuous looking item on the Board's agenda for this evening (2/15/12) in the Administrative and Human Resources Committee meeting: "Personnel Matter: the Board will discuss a personnel matter."

I assumed this was a matter in which a Township employee was being disciplined and the code required Board approval of the discipline. (This happens routinely in police matters when the Superintendent recommends the suspension of an officer; the employee's name is not publicly used and few details are given, although the Board has been fully briefed on the matter in executive session.)

Over the weekend, several constituents asked me what this agenda item was about and whether it was proper for the Township not to give detail. There was no information in my packet, so on Saturday (2/10/12) I contacted Commissioner George Manos (I incorrectly thought he was the Chair of the committee). Commissioner Manos advised me that he also did not know what the agenda item was about, but kindly said he would get information and let me know.

Last night (2/14/12), having received no further information, I emailed the Township Manager and asked him to advise me what the personnel issue was. The unresponsive email I received from the Manager this morning (copy attached) was: "It was at the request of President Rogan." (no information was given as to what was at the request of President Rogan)

At 8:00 a.m. today, President Rogan sent an email to all Commissioners (copy attached) stating that the purpose of the item on tonight's agenda is to act on the Township Manager's contract. She apologized for the "confusion."

Let's be clear; there was no "confusion". Deceptiveness, sneakiness, evasiveness, attempted stealth? Yes; but "confusion"? No.

By way of background, the Township Manager has been working without a contract since the beginning of the year. A committee of three commissioners, Churchill, Bernheim and Zelov, tried to come up with a proposed contract for the Manager, but were unable to agree, with Churchill and Bernheim desiring more generous terms for the Manager and Zelov desiring more reasonable terms.

Several weeks ago, I requested two weeks' notice of the terms of any proposed contract with the manager, just as I had requested and received two weeks' notice of the proposed terms of the Workers Association contract, so that I could let you, the Township residents, know of the proposed terms. It is, after all, your money that pays the Manager's contract. (Unlike workers in the private sector, the terms of public sector employees' compensation are public; the Manager's contract is a public document and the terms of his employment and compensation are public information; the Board is required to vote on his contract in public.)

You can imagine my surprise in learning that the Manager's proposed contract is to be acted upon this evening. What contract? What are the proposed terms? (President Rogan has not responded.) Why was the matter not shown on the agenda? Why the disrespect of the Township residents?

I know numerous people who would have liked to have known that the Township Manager's contract was going to be on the agenda this evening. The failure to honestly inform the Township residents (as well as some commissioners) is shockingly arrogant.

There is no question that the Board should not act on the Township Manager's contract this evening - whatever that proposal may be. The public has not been informed and commissioners have not been informed. Unfortunately, it appears that the Board will act.

When/if I do get more information, I will advise you as to the proposed terms, the manager's duties and his job performance - hopefully you will have a chance to let me know your thoughts. “

Jenny Brown
Lower Merion Township Commissioner
Ward 2, Gladwyne/Penn Valley